SFF Review: Greetings From Tim Buckley

greetings-from-tim-buckley sff

Playing in the Sound On Screen category for the SYDENY FILM FESTIVALGreetings From Tim Buckley is a musical biopic(ish) staring Penn Badgley and Imogen Poots and the funk-soul-avant-garde sounds of cult music legend, Tim Buckley.

While using his name in the title, this movies isn’t exactly about Tim Buckley, but instead about his similarly famous, and genre spanning (if only slightly less so) son Jeff Buckley, played confidently by Gossip Girl himself Penn Badgley.

Set in 1991, during rehearsals for a Tim Buckley tribute concert in Brooklyn, the film follows Jeff (Badgley) in the days leading up to the event, and his eventual public singing debut. Jumping between vignettes of Tim Buckley (Ben Rosenfield) on the road, and the main plot of Jeff Buckley as he comes to terms with his father’s legend and the friendship he forms with Allie (Imogen Poots), a young girl working on the event.

In Badgley’s and director Daniel Algrant’s hands Jeff is a confident (at times arrogant) man trying to find his own voice and identity beyond the hefty shadow of his father. This father-son relationship is a defining characteristic of this film, and the theme that carries much of the plot forward. When Jeff meets up with all the other musicians participating in the tribute concert he is decidedly standoffish. He is immediately uncomfortable – or at least unsure of – the waves of affection all these people are lapping onto his father and his legacy. Later in the film the character vocalises his issues with the event and the people paying tribute, pouting about how people don’t, and can’t, know the man. This is an intresating, but also an ugly and bratting moment for the character. It is a scene where we are invited to get a glimpse of the abandonment this person has felt. The fact that he is being compared to the man’s physical appearance, or being asked to tribute the person he admits to only actually meeting once puts the character in a tailspin, where he is then forced to confront those very attitudes.

In his performance Badgley is surprisingly good. He plays the man as reserved but also as an extravert. However, he is also stuck in a strange romantic subplot with the aforementioned Allie. In her performance Poots is in no way bad, its just that this plot really doesn’t have much of a link with the vignettes of the father or of Jeff’s relationship with him. It seems as though this whole subplot only exists so that we can get a little more inside Jeff’s head and thought process, as Allie gives the character a reason vocalises his feelings and attitudes regarding his father to. In the end it kind of just wastes Poots, because the girl has serious screen presence. In the end, she does her best to try and put as much emotions on the character’s face so that we get the sense she is invested in this man that spends half of their time together not exactly treating her with all that much love and affection.

While Badgley’s acting performance is mostly solid, he is playing a musical legend with one of the most distinct and moving voices of the last 20 years, so the singing is obviously going to play a major role. As far as the voice is concern, well it’s again pretty solid, I’m not exactly going to request an album of it or anything but it is passable and does it’s job. HOWEVER, watching the guy sing is actually pretty excruciating. Whenever he is call on to sing I just got the feeling he was seriously hamming it up. All the subtlety and reservations he made in his acting were just totally abandoned. It’s almost parody of that emotional singing face those really emotional singers give us. There is also a moment in a record store where the character mimics the music of the artists he sees when flicking through albums, and all I can say about this moment is serious second-hand embarrassment. Which is unfortunate.

In the end, Greetings From Tim Buckley is a fascinating and well shot film following a son navigating the inescapable legend of his father, while being compared to a man he barely knew. While there are passable, and almost good performances the actors aren’t always able to surpass the limitations of the situations their characters are placed in. Which eventuates in a nice, but mostly forgettable film.

★ ★ 1/2

Greetings From Tim Buckley premieres at SFF on 7th June, you can buy tickets HERE

Words by Luke Letourneau